From late August through early October 2014, MORE Productions of Los Angeles shot the principal scenes for “The Summerland Project” in Cedar Rapids.
The cast featured Hollywood actors — including Ed Begley Jr. and area natives Jesse Henecke and John Livingston — as well as local talent, with Angela Billman of Cedar Rapids portraying Amelia Summerland, a comatose, dying woman whose mind is placed in an artificial body. The screenplay grew from a stage play by Rob Merritt of Cedar Rapids, who has since joined The Gazette staff. His science-fiction drama about life conquering death through human robotics debuted in November 2011 in Theatre Cedar Rapids’s Underground New Play Festival, then moved to the TCR main stage in January 2013.
Merritt had shared his script with Adam Orton, a Cedar Rapids native who studied film and video in Chicago. After Orton saw the 2013 TCR production, he and writer Merritt teamed up to leap the story from stage to screen.
“It’s the kind of story, as a filmmaker, that you wait your entire life for,” Orton said.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
Shot for about $1.2 million, “The Summerland Project” is in the final phase of postproduction work in Los Angeles. Finishing touches in the past year have ranged from adding visual, audio and coloring effects to inserting music by composer/producer Michael A. Levine (“Cold Case,” “Hunger Games: Catching Fire”).
Director Adam Orton, 30, who now lives in Marion, said a June screening for a test audience in Los Angeles garnered positive reactions and helped shape the film’s last act. Hollywood actress Debra Wilson (“Avatar,” MADtv”), who plays TV reporter Adah Allen, returned to shoot additional footage in late August.
A nearly finished product has been submitted to a major independent film festival for the 2016 season. Orton isn’t ready to disclose which festival, but said the movie’s fate there will determine its distribution and festival-circuit future. Some effects still might be tweaked for the final cut.
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“If anything changes, it’s likely to be small visual effects, or music or audio differences,” he said.
Orton plans to screen the finished product in Cedar Rapids.
“It’s too early to announce any formal dates,” he said, “but my entire philosophy of wanting to make a movie here is married to the idea of being able to show that film here, before the rest of the world. Tricky things like premiere status, which festivals want, make that a little bit difficult, but that’s the only thing that’s holding up an answer.
“I’m going to definitely go out of my way to show it here because I think we should.”